Woodman’s of Essex – Essex, MA | Review & What to Eat

Woodman’s claims to be the place where the fried clam was invented — on Independence Day weekend in 1916. The story is that Lawrence Woodman tried to drum up business by tossing clams into the deep fryer along with the Saratoga chips he was selling at his clam bar. Who knows if the story is true? Who cares? The fact is that Woodman’s is today the Big Kahuna of North Shore clam shacks.

Located in the heart of the clam belt, where towns have bivavular names like Ipswich and Little Neck, Woodman’s defines a whole style of informal Yankee gastronomy. It is called “eat in the rough” around here, which means you stand at a counter, yell your order through the commotion, then wait for your number to be called. The food is served on cardboard plates with plastic forks. Carry it to a table … and pray that you can find a table that is not occupied. In the summer especially, Woodman’s can be insanely crowded.

If your experience eating fried seafood means a vaguely ocean-flavored morsel of food inside a thick gob of breading, Woodman’s clams (and all its fried shellfish) will be a shock. The crust on a Woodman’s clam is lush and crunchy, but it exists only to play harmony to the sweet, soft lode of marine goodness it contains. Although Woodman’s clams are available by the pint, or on a bun (known as a clam roll), the preferred way to enjoy them is as a platter, which means accompanied by both French fries and onion rings. It’s a deep-fried pig-out beyond any nutritional law or reason!